Presented by Diane Bayless, Vice President, Sugarland Run Home Owners’ Association, March 10, 2016 Sugarland Run was fortunate to be the beneficiary of a grant funded by The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Fairfax Water and secured for us by Piedmont Environmental Council and Loudoun County. *
Premier Turf and Landscaping donated staff time and equipment to help community volunteers plant more than 390 native trees and shrubs at 4 sites on our property that had been identified by the county forester as suitable for the plantings. *
These plantings added beauty to our community, but more importantly will reduce air and water pollution, bank erosion and soak up rainfall in low lying areas. A second part of the grant provided free soil tests, and a Certified Nutrient Management Plan.
Throughout this process we have learned some important lessons that will help us move forward and which others might find helpful *
Our first lesson was to recognize the importance of environmental education for board members. We are all concerned about out communities be we are volunteers with limited time and varied interests and experiences. However, gaining knowledge on environmental issues will help us better perform our duties as board members. For me, that meant completing the Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardener certification. For others it might mean staying on top of current county issues or taking advantage of local seminars and resources. * To help us better understand our Nutrient Management Plan we invited an expert to our board meeting to lay it out in laymen’s terms. Our board members have also recently joined the Community Associations Institute to be able to network with other associations. *
Our second lesson is to use this knowledge to create a more informed partnership with our landscape contractor. * They know our common grounds better than we do but it is still up to us to direct the work we want from them. This does not mean that we are looking for fewer services, but it does mean ensuring that they use safe, effective and sustainable landscape practices that allow our common grounds to support a variety of uses. We will be working with our contractor to use our nutrient management plan to ensure grounds are maintained in ways that reduce the use of unneeded or potentially toxic chemicals, and ensure that all guidelines are followed when using chemicals. Furthermore, we have designated one no-mow area and are looking at other sites that can be allowed to grow at more natural rates. We will be planting more native species that generally require less maintenance and provide habitat for native birds and pollinators. In addition we will encourage our contractor to eliminate invasive species that were planted because they grew quickly but now are over running many areas. We will also look at practices such as the application of mulches to conserve water while freeing our trees from once-popular “mulch volcanoes” that shorten their life span. *
The third lesson is the importance of communication. * As HOA boards, even when we are making decisions that are in the best interest of the community, we do not always do the best job in communicating both the decisions and reasons to our members. Overall the response from the community to the tree planting has been good, though a few residents initially complained that we took away space they had been using for specific recreation. Our roll should be to hear their concerns, keep them informed on our projects and ensure that we still maintain areas that support the recreational activities that they enjoy. As we do this we can encourage them to consider what measures they can take on their own properties as well. *
Our ultimate goal is to maintain our common property so that it adds beauty and value to the community, supports that activities that are important to our residents and provides a healthy and sustainable environment. To do this we must remember * Education, * Partnership and * Communication are needed to help us achieve that goal.